Ecological histories: Contrasting uses of history at two LTER sites
The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program was founded by the NSF in 1980 to encompass longer-term research than was the norm. LTER sites vary widely and have acquired historical as well as ecological significance. The H.J. Andrews Forest (AND) LTER was one of the original 1980 sites; in contrast, the Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC) LTER began in 2000. Comparing these sites from a historical perspective entails discussion of the differing kinds of historical evidence available at each site and the differing techniques of historical analysis available for this evidence. Approaches include environmental history, ecological history, and evolutionary history. In addition, “deep history” looks back to prehistoric times and may not include humans. Analytic methods from paleontology, paleobotany, and archaeology also play roles in assessing historical evidence. New historical methods go beyond the text and even beyond human presence, and can inform long-term ecological studies.
The history of the Andrews LTER as a research site dates back to the 1930s, and maps and other records give evidence of land use back to the mid-nineteenth century. A project to archive scientific research at the Andrews site has yielded an enormous amount of paper evidence; however, paper records diminish after 2000, and how to archive electronic data remains an ongoing question (and not only in history). While the Santa Barbara Coastal site has a much shorter history as a research site, it has a much longer human history. Archaeological methods have dated human habitation at the site at 8,500 years. Ongoing historical research has demonstrated multiple human impacts on this site, with possible implications for ecological research. These sites demonstrate that the meaning of “long-term” ecological research may go far beyond what the NSF envisioned in 1980.